Exterior Wall Sheathing

Exterior Shell, The Walls

Prior to starting our wall framing, we checked in with Tim’s dad Kerry for a few tips and pointers on how to go about it all, and he mentioned that he likes to sheathe his walls while they’re still on the floor. It’s a lot easier to line everything up that way, with gravity working on your side. We liked that idea, but were nervous that the walls would be too heavy for us to lift with all that plywood nailed on, so we decided to wait until after the walls were raised to do the sheathing. I am happy we did this because the walls were heavy enough with just the studs; however, if we had easy access to a few more bodies to help on short notice, I would DEFINITELY sheathe the walls while they’re on the floor. It would have been a lot easier.

The first sheet!

The first sheet!

1/2″ standard plywood was our pick for the sheathing rather than OSB because it is lighter, will not soak up as much water, and is generally more durable and strong. Plywood is more expensive, but again, with the tiny house you can choose quality over quantity. Also, if you remember me discussing during the subfloor stage the requirement to orient plywood so that its long edge is perpendicular to the strength axis of what it’s being affixed to – the same applies here. Plywood comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets, and since our vertical wall studs are our strength axes, we made the 8′ side of our plywood sheets run horizontally. Also, like the subfloor, it’s important to stagger your pieces from row to row, like how bricks are laid, so that you don’t get seems lining up and forming major linear weaknesses in your wall.

IMG_20151001_180518Starting at the bottom, we did an entire row all the way around and then did another run above that, working our way up to the top plates. Fortunately, we have scaffolding to work with. I can’t stress enough how much of a blessing it was to not have to work from a ladder and be constantly moving it.

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We actually cut our pieces of plywood such that the door and the big 6′ window were left open, but all the other windows we sheathed over because it is a lot simpler to just cut them out afterwards. Unfortunately, since the overall length of our long walls is 28’4 1/4″, we couldn’t have nice round 8′ and 4′ pieces the entire way… we had to divide it up a little oddly (three 8′ pieces, and a 4’4 1/4″ at the end; or, two 8′ pieces, a 6′ piece, and a 6’4 1/4″ piece). CONFUSING! Additionally, we also wanted to make sure to maintain the ~1/8″ gap between all the sheets to allow for swelling in the case of moisture absorption. Throw in the desire to minimize waste by using up our scrap pieces, and a seemingly simple job turns into a weird wooden version of Tetris.

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The process generally involved the following steps:

  1.  Measure the space on the wall – the required length of the sheet going in.
  2.  Transfer that measurement in pencil to both the ends of the plywood sheet (which has been patiently waiting on the saw horses while you took your sweet time double checking the measurement :P)
  3. Snap a chalk line to follow when cutting to size.
  4. Fire up the circular saw and zip off your waste.
  5. Hoist the sheet up to the platform on the scaffolding.
  6. Hold the sheet into position, one person at each end, using your hands, knees, feet, head, whatever works in order to make it straight and square. Simultaneously, wedge a 2 1/2″ nail under each corner between the bottom of your sheet and the top of the one below, to act as a 1/8″ spacer.
  7. Nail the top left corner, the top centre, and the top right corner, quickly but carefully. Leave the nails sticking out a little so you can remove them and re-position if necessary.
  8. Check all four sides for level and square, and that enough space is left on the end stud for the next sheet to join in. If any issues, re-position and try again, with copious curse words.
  9. Permanently nail the sheet in – we used a 6″ nailing pattern on the edges and in the field.

In total, it took us four full, long, draining days to get the sheathing up, but by the end of it we had a structure that somewhat resembled a house. The walls were opaque, relatively sturdy, and you could no longer walk or see through them! At this point, we decided to bring all of our scrap material and tools into our house, organize it all so we knew where to find things, and be as out of the way as possible.

IMG_20151007_131607On October 8th, we cut out our 11 remaining windows, using a reciprocating saw. This was harder than it looked, and you have to have some serious upper body strength to wield that tool overhead for extended periods of time. We wanted to cut the windows out from the inside so that we could see exactly where the perimeter studs were located, so we used a ladder inside the structure to get at the windows.

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It’s funny how exciting and joyful new chapters on this build are, and to notice how they become more routine and easy as they approach their close. In addition, each new task brings renewed enthusiasm, but a sort that only lasts a short time. The focus and commitment required to finish each task after the sparkly beginning wears off can often be draining. And the draining feeling seems to be cumulative. During the first month of the build it was easy to bounce back from challenges and get immersed in each new task as it presented itself. As time marches on for this project, it seems harder to keep on initiating the new tasks because we have obtained a very clear understanding that (A) things always take a lot longer than you expect and (B) things will likely not go smoothly and perfect like they do in the YouTube / instructional video. With that said, it is crucial to not let yourself get bogged down in the frustrating side of reality, and focus on the sparkly part 🙂 It has been really important for us to take little breaks now and again to recharge / switch off from the Tiny House and go be around people who can distract us entirely from the project.

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2 thoughts on “Exterior Wall Sheathing

  1. I really enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing your journey. Would be lovely if you posted more frequently. Personally, I recently joined the Tiny House Movement and am enjoying every bit of it.

    If fact, my love is so great that i personally built a picture site dedicated to the tiny house movement. You can share all your Tiny house living pics from your building process to plans used, for the benefit of others just joining our movement. What do you think? I really would love to know.

    Like

  2. “you can choose quality over quantity” I love this phrase. Indeed, that phrase is right cause the quality win over everything when come to building house. Thank for sharing your journey of making house. It’s very amazing to know how to create your small house. Very valuable story of you.

    Like

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